ANNAPOLIS — After repeated public corruption cases in recent years, stronger ethics laws should be a priority of the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.
At a news conference announcing plans for legislation, the Republican governor noted a litany of federal indictments against state lawmakers — the latest just weeks ago. He said the cases illustrate that “a pervasive filter of corruption continues to exist, and it is clear that even tougher and more stringent laws are needed.”
“It’s been happening for a long time, but I really can’t explain why it continues to happen, but we’re going to try to do everything that we can to try to tighten up the rules so it can’t continue to happen,” Hogan said.
The Ethics and Accountability In Government Act of 2020 will include increased penalties for bribery — both for officials and people who pay or solicit bribes. Hogan also said the proposed legislation would force lawmakers to forfeit their pensions, expand prohibitions of misuse of confidential information by public officials and empower the State Ethics Commission to directly assess penalties against public officials — authority the commission currently has for lobbyists.
Last week former Del. Tawanna Gaines, a Prince George’s County Democrat, was sentenced to six months in prison on federal charges of misusing campaign donations. Her daughter, Anitra Edmond, has pleaded guilty to skimming more than $35,000 while serving as Gaines’ campaign treasurer.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said last week that a measure will be introduced in the legislative session that begins Wednesday to ban candidates’ family members from serving as campaign treasurers.
Just weeks ago, federal authorities unsealed charges against former Del. Cheryl Glenn. The Baltimore Democrat is accused of taking more than $33,000 in bribes in exchange for various legislative actions, including accepting money in exchange for supporting measures to expand licensing for out-of-state marijuana companies.
In November, disgraced former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat and former state senator, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion involving the sales of her self-published children’s books.
In 2018, former state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of fraud for accepting $15,300 in bribes. Oaks was indicted in 2017, amid a flurry of other state and federal charges against would-be, former and sitting lawmakers who ended up in legal trouble.
That year, Gary Brown, a Democrat who also was charged in the case relating to Pugh months ago, was indicted by state prosecutors for violating election laws by funneling money to Pugh’s campaign through relatives — one day before he was scheduled to be sworn in as a Baltimore delegate. Brown pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax charges related to the case against Pugh last year.
Also in 2017, federal prosecutors announced a former delegate, William Campos, had pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy in a public corruption case involving the liquor industry in Prince George’s County. The next day, hours before the legislative session started, another Prince George’s County Democrat, Del. Michael Vaughn, abruptly announced his resignation. Vaughn was indicted in the same federal case as Campos.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Hogan also highlighted other measures he is supporting this year related to crime.
One measure would require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to publish sentencing records of judges in violent crime cases. The records would help the public hold the system more accountable for sentencing decisions, supporters argue.
Hogan also is pushing for tougher sentences for violent offenders who commit crimes with guns.